(This column originally appeared in the January 2016 issue of Refreshed Magazine)
Over the holidays I noticed a new product on my grocery store shelf: half-sized spaghetti. It’s basically plain spaghetti, but half the length of regular spaghetti and touted as the “perfect size for any pot” because there’s no need to break it in half.
At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, have we become so lazy as Americans that we can’t break our own pasta in half?
I posted that sentiment, along with a photo of the box of spaghetti, on my Facebook page. My intent was to generate discussion about the way we rely on convenience items and technology to do everyday things we really should be doing ourselves. I’m not even talking about things like relying on GPS instead of reading a map. I’m talking about using electric staplers and wearing self-tying sneakers.
The little rant made sense to me, so imagine my surprise when instead of people talking about the laziness of half-sized spaghetti, I was hit with a barrage of replies that all shared the same message: Never break the pasta.
Yes, dear readers, the fact that we’re too lazy to break our own spaghetti is a far less serious offense than the fact that anyone would dare to break spaghetti in the first place.
The debate over pasta size included comments from my friend, Bob, who regularly cooks a variety of delicious-looking Italian dishes for his family and shares the photos on social media.
“Never break the pasta,” he wrote. When I asked why, he replied, “You’re not supposed to break it.”
For the record, I don’t break the pasta; I know not to do that. But why am I not supposed to do that? I asked the question again and again, and dozens of people responded. The conversations went something like this:
Sarah: “Um. My Italian Grammy just rolled over in her grave. You do NOT break spaghetti, you do not cut spaghetti. I’m offended by this product for that reason alone lol, completely ignoring the laziness factor.”
Me: “So what’s the difference between broken pasta and pasta made half-sized? Nothing, right? Or is it just that it’s smaller?”
Sarah: “No difference. Both are wrong. Haha.”
Bob: “See. Do not break the pasta!”
Of course, some people love the half-sized spaghetti. Lynda explains, “When I break the long spaghetti, I tend to have some pieces go flying around.” Several people agreed with her; breaking the pasta is messy, they say, so pre-broken pasta makes sense.
Amy breaks the pasta to fit her small saucepan because it takes too long to boil water in a bigger pan. “However,” she adds, “I prefer to break my own pasta.”
And then there’s Kimberly, who unabashedly admitted, “I was so excited to see this product the other day that I bought some immediately. Too lazy to break my own dang pasta? You bet! Small luxuries like this turn me on, lol!”
Non-breakers were aghast.
But why? Breaking spaghetti doesn’t change the molecular structure, does it? So the half-sized spaghetti should taste the same as the longer spaghetti, right? The world won’t end if you break your spaghetti or do it the lazy way and buy it already cut in half.
Or maybe it will. When I asked whether breaking the pasta makes it taste differently, people shared links to articles explaining how it changes the way the sauce sticks to the spaghetti, thereby affecting the taste. The articles also insisted that breaking the spaghetti is bad luck and a crime akin to denying your Italian heritage. Someone even shared links to stores where you can buy a properly sized spaghetti pot.
Because, as any good Italian knows, to properly cook spaghetti you put it in a pot of salted, rapidly boiling water, with the ends of the pasta sticking out. You let it sit for about 30 seconds until it starts to get a bit soft, and then gently bend the rest of the pasta into the water.
If you can’t do that in the pot you have, don’t break the spaghetti. Go out and buy a new pot. Unless, of course, you’re too lazy.